One burr at a time...
The other day my husband took our dog to the lake at sunset on a Sunday. It had been a blazing hot day, and they had a great time, swimming and playing on the shore while the sun went down. But when my dog came back from running through the bushes, she was full of burrs. These were not your ordinary sort of burrs - these were humongous, gnarly burrs. Her luxurious long golden-retriever-style tail was knotted into a sad, tangled rattail. Working as carefully as he could, he had already painstakingly removed over twenty large burrs from her ears and paws. Hairbrushing was not his specialty and he needed help. He'd been able to save her ears but her tail looked beyond repair.
"What's the groomer's contact info?" Peter texted me. "She's full of burrs and needs some TLC."
It was Sunday night and I knew that our beloved dog groomer only works Wednesday through Friday. I know from having long hair that once tangles start, they only get worse, so there was really no time to wait. So when Peter and Summerdog returned home, we put the baby to bed and I set myself to work.
By the time I started, it was after 11pm. My dog's tail was an impenetrable mess of burrs and tangled long hairs. I felt overwhelm rise in my chest and tighten my throat. This felt impossible.
"One burr at a time." I thought. "One burr at a time."
I laid out all of my dog grooming tools - I have a hairbrush, a comb, some fancy things that cut through mats, and a little pair of scissors for when things are just too tangled to comb out. I also cut up a piece of grilled chicken into tiny bits and set them in a cup on my lap. A special treat - she was going to need to be very patient and this might hurt.
I chose a section of tail, where the burrs felt the loosest. I chose one burr, and began to puzzle out the logic of the tangle it had created around itself. Each burr felt like it was encapsulated in its own Gordian knot.
"One burr at a time." I said, steadying myself. "One burr at a time."
I fed my dog a tiny piece of chicken. I yanked and combed and used the scissors for a tiny snip, and the first burr came out. "Good dog." I whispered.
I worked on that section of tail, painstakingly untangling the mass of burrs with snips and yanks and careful brushing.
It was midnight now. I heard my baby stir in the next room. "Damnit!" I thought. I was so tired, and I was supposed to be sleeping while my baby was sleeping. But if I let my dog sleep on this tail full of burrs, she would surely lose all the hair on her tail to this impenetrable mess. The urgency of the need was mine, really - I didn't want my dog to lose her pretty hair. I know she wouldn't care as much as I would. But I felt like I had to do right by her, and get the burrs out.
I picked up her tail in my hands. I had cleared out a section about the width of three fingers, but the rest of the tail was still one completely tangled mass. I felt the overwhelm rise in my chest. It felt impossible.
"One burr at a time. I just have to pick somewhere to begin. Work on one burr at a time. Forget about the rest of them for now." I talked myself through it, steadying my overwhelm. I fed my dog a tiny piece of chicken, and got back to work.
The night wore on as I worked my way through the massive snarl. One by one, the burrs came out. A snip of the scissors here, a patient comb-through there, and they released. And miraculously, they didn't take all the hair with them. Yes it was thinner, and yes there was a massive fuzzy pile of burrs and clipped tangles growing next to us, but where we had removed the burrs, she still had plenty of fur. It was going to be okay! We were going to make it!
Snip, comb, ease it out. Feed the dog a piece of chicken. "Just pick one burr, honey" I would talk myself through it. "Clean up one burr at a time."
It became a mantra of sorts, a way to keep my attention on the progress we were making together.
"One burr at a time." Every time the overwhelm crept up, or I felt rushed, I reminded myself gently to focus on the immediate task at hand. "One burr at a time."
I recently had a baby, and I went to a lot of prenatal yoga classes in the months leading up to the birth. My yoga teacher, Shana, used to make us hold the most difficult pose - like a very deep squat - and then remind us, while we were in it, that "You can do anything for a minute." Legs quaking at the effort, I would tell myself, internally, again and again. "I can do anything for a minute. I can do ANYTHING for a minute."
"Thirty seconds left" Shana would say "You can do anything for a minute."
On the day the contractions finally came, this mantra was a part of my very being. "I can do anything for a minute. I can do ANYTHING for a minute.”
No one knew how long I would be in labor. No one ever knows how long a mama will be in labor. So you just take it one contraction at a time.
“I can do anything for a minute.” I would think. “And just one contraction at a time.”
If, during labor, I were to have stepped outside of the experience and thought "Well, my mama was in labor with her first born for 69 hours and I've only been in labor for two hours so I might have 67 more hours of this to go" I would have immediately collapsed from overwhelm at the thought of such exertion.
But no one knew my trajectory, and the only way through it was through it. So I committed to each contraction, moving my body. Bearing down with all my might. Going IN to the sensation.
"I can do anything for a minute. One contraction at a time."
Caring for a newborn is the song that never ends. It's a diaper change followed by a nurse followed by a burp followed by a nap followed by a bottle, and then it's time for another diaper change.
At one point when Skye was just a few weeks old, I hit a wall of exhaustion. I collapsed into tears, my husband taking over with the baby while I had my time to melt down.
"The thing is," I said, heaving a great sigh, "there's no break coming. I can't catch up on sleep tomorrow. This isn't finals week of college, where I'm pulling an all-nighter but I can sleep all next week."
My husband nodded, compassionately.
"Skye eats around the clock. Which means I'm up around the clock. And she'll need to eat, around the clock, tomorrow, too."
"But I can give her a bottle, darling. Why don't you go sleep in the guest bed and get some rest?" My husband replied.
"But you don't understand - I still have to pump if you give her a bottle. To keep my supply up."
Whether that was true or not, I did not know. But in the early days I was worried about my milk supply and didn't want to miss a feeding interval for fear of it dropping off. "Either way," I cried, "I'm so tired. I am just up all the time."
After letting it all out, I pulled myself back together. I took our baby into my arms, and I felt my resolve return. "Don't think about all the days to come." I thought to myself. "Right now is all there is."
Being a new parent is like a combination of wanting time to slow down and hurry up all at once. I'm excited to be able to do things with my baby as she becomes more agile, but I'm mourning the loss of her tiny, newborn-ness. While she sleeps, I take care of the chores, work, walk the dog and bustle about while she naps in her baby carrier. My sleeping baby feels like an accessory while life carries on just like before. But then suddenly, she stirs, waking, and life is all at once transformed. I have a CHILD. A daughter. A baby, who drinks in my attention and gives me her gaze like pure light. These moments arrest me, pulling me into presence.
"Right now is all there is."
I feel such a surge of love when I meet my daughter's gaze. All at once I realize how fleeting this moment is. I feel compelled to photograph, to capture, to share, to somehow hold on to these ephemeral moments with my growing girl. But doing this every time isn't possible, or necessary, or even what I truly want. Documenting the moment changes the moment. My baby doesn't care if I have a hundred pictures of her each day, in fact she might not have time in her life as a grown-up to look through her baby album if it has a thousand pages.
My baby knows energy. My baby knows presence. My baby cares only for the moment we are in.
"Right now is all there is."
“One burr at at time.”
“You can do anything for a minute.”
“One contraction at a time.”
“Right now is all there is.”
These are my mantras now.
These are my mantras of endurance, of strength, of presence, of motherhood.
Motherhood is a journey without end. Growing, evolving, spiraling onward into infinity. Unlike the burrs, or birth, motherhood doesn’t end. There is no finish line, no untangled tail. There is nowhere to get to in a hurry, but we are always traveling forward in time.
Skye is three months old now. We are getting more sleep, and I have better adapted to the pace of these days; a revolving carousel of nurse-burp-fuss-diaper-nap-cuddle-repeat.
I can finally follow a thought through to its end, something that often escaped me during the most sleep-deprived early days. I write every day. I am figuring out how to paint in the small, often-interrupted moments of time I have.
These mantras give me strength, ground me into the present moment, remind me to stay with it, whatever it is.
Because, truly, right now is all there is.